I was five years old when I met my very first best friend. She was a dark-haired girl who wore her clothes a bit skewed and lived next door to me in El Monte, California. My family and I had just moved there from Juarez, Mexico. I spoke no English, unless someone broke out singing the theme song of the Mickey Mouse Club with Annette Funicello. I could belt out M-I-C-K-E-Y like an official club member, minus the hat with the mouse-ears. That show played on our black and white TV every week when we lived in Mexico
I don’t remember exactly how I met my first best friend forever or how we communicated, but we clicked right away. Over the next three years she helped me learn English and taught me to say father instead of pather. We’d get together after school and play in her front yard hanging from the trees that shaded her house. Her parents had some sort of a mini-barn in their back yard. We’d go there and chase the goats.
Her parents didn’t have a lot of money. Neither did mine. One school year on picture day, we were given money to buy the basic picture package, the one with only one large self-portrait and four wallet-size ones. We deliberated very carefully before choosing the special few who would be honored with our mug shot. I gave her one of mine and she gave me one of hers. The bigger picture dutifully went to our parents.
I misplaced her picture many years ago but I still remember the details of her face. She had that unaware smile and semi-combed hair we all seemed to share in those school pictures. The photographers of that era had a knack for capturing some of the worst single images of our awkward youth.
My first BFF moved away after we both finished second grade. We hugged on the street the day she left and I never saw her again. All that remains in my memories of that friendship are the silent images of wide smiles and laughing faces as we swung from those trees and played with the barn animals.
This past weekend, forty some years after that first goodbye, I found myself standing on another neighborhood street, hugging and saying farewell to another BFF. Like the first one, this latest friendship sprouted out of nothing and blossomed without effort. This woman became my close friend after I moved from D.C. to the suburbs in Virginia.
This goodbye scenario is one of a few that have played out throughout my adult life. Unlike my childhood BFF, I have had the great fortune of maintaining close ties with the handful of parting adult BFF’s. We can go for months without hearing from each other but always pick up where we left off. They are always ready to lend support at any moment of crisis and ask for nothing in return. They know I will do the same for them.
My most recent departing friend is now in her new home hundreds of miles away. I already miss her but I am confident that I will see her again soon.
As with my other close friends, I already carry stored silent images in my mind of my suburban BFF friendship. They are of shard glasses of wine over conversations about kids, new relationships and husbands. It is a far cry from swinging from trees and chasing goats, but these latest images of wide smiles and laughing faces are already as treasured as those I have from forty-some years ago.